For most Canadian children, learning to skate is considered a rite of passage.
That wasn’t the case for Jeffrey Morden from Fergus, Ontario. His passion for skating came much later.
“When I was in grade four my family moved out of Fergus to a farm just up Highway 6. When my parents went to work, we used to go into town to babysitters where school was within walking distance. Once in a while after school my sitter would put my skates on for me and I’d walk down the sidewalk, a block and a half, to the arena. I didn’t know you were supposed to wear guards!”
Although Jeffrey never took skating lessons as a child, other sporting experiences were becoming a part of his daily routine.
“My Dad trained and raced Standardbred horses and I helped him with that when I was growing up. When my cousin started riding, something I wanted to do too, I got riding lessons for my tenth birthday. I loved it so much that by the time I was in my teens I was competing in Junior, then in three day Eventing and finally twice at Canadian Pony Club Nationals.”
During high school and throughout his years as a competitive rider, Jeffrey was also heavily involved in music, concert Band, choir, school musicals and his favorite, as a member of a contemporary pop group called Surge. “Surge was a big deal at my school … Surge was like ABBA!”
Then in his grade twelve year, his school took on its first big production, Guy and Dolls. For Jeffrey it was a turning point.
“At that time I was still riding and taking an exam through Pony Club so I had no time to audition for the show.”
But that didn’t mean he wasn’t interested, in fact, he was feeling so left out that his voice teacher talked the director into giving him a last-minute audition. The director was hooked and immediately cast Jeffrey in the show that year, following up the next year with the role of Lawyer Louie Loser in Jacob Two-Two and the Hooded Fang.
During his final year, as Jeffrey’s love for music and theatre continued to grow, he knew he was at a cross roads and had to make a big decision after graduation. Would he continue with riding or would he pursue his education?
“University won out,” admitted Jeffrey. “I ended up in the School of Dramatic Art at the University of Windsor starting out as a Costume and Set Design major.” But after one year, sensing that he had hidden talents that hadn’t yet been explored, he switched to Performance.
“I studied voice at the School of Music, acting at the School of Dramatic Art and dance at any studio in the city.”
Little did he know that another discipline, skating, was waiting in the wings.
“When I was at university I was watching skating on television. There was something about it that struck a chord. Since there was a rink a couple of blocks from my apartment, I decided I’d give it a try. So I went to Goodwill and bought these antique skates, died them black and then got out the phone book to see where I could get them sharpened. When I took them to the figure skating shop, the people there just looked at them stunned … there was no way anyone could actually skate in them!”
And in true “Jeffrey” style, he started talking to the owner. “In exchange for a pair of used men’s skates, I offered to bead dresses and make design templates. That year I even beaded a dress for international pair skater Denise Benning!”
When Jeffrey finished school, Toronto was in his sights. “The first thing after getting settled was to find a skating club and a coach beginning at the West Toronto Figure Skating Club and then at Moss Park Skating Club. I studied dancing and figures, started testing and took my preliminary free skate about four months later … and I’m proud to say my program had two Axels in it.”
It was a great start for a 24-year old adult skater but then when Jeffrey began getting more work as a singer/dancer/actor, skating had to take a back seat to life. On the road and performing for years on stage and on cruise ships, he never forgot the joy of skating, often taking advantage of rehearsal time to keep up his skating muscle memory.
“You could always see me doing jumps off ice while in rehearsals, at the gym or warming up for a show. Occasionally I would sneak one into a number here or there. There was a lovely double loop in the Summertime adage during Birth of the Blues on one Holland America Cruise but for the most part that was it. I didn’t go public skating or guest skate anywhere during those years except on one occasion in Singapore when I tried to get to the rink but they were closed that day.”
Fast forward a few decades to 2011 and to the moment skating came back into Jeffrey’s life. “One day when I was teaching at a private school in Guelph, my friend Lisa said to me, ‘You know, they have adult competitions now.’ So I guess I can blame her for my passion to compete and test while in my fifties.”
And come back, he did, with a fierce determination to learn, become a judge, compete and share his performance expertise.
On the ice, Jeffrey continues to train for tests and competitions. He’s accomplished his goals of passing his Junior Bronze Dances, his Senior Bronze Freeskate and his Gold Artistic test. Competitively he’s been successful at Adult Nationals, last year finishing second in both the Men’s Gold Free Skate and the Men’s Bronze Interpretive. This year in Calgary, he’ll be back at Adult Nationals representing the Elora and District Skating Club and looking for the top spot on the podium.
As for sharing his performance knowledge, that part of his skating career is growing too. “I have always said that skaters are being judged on something they have no training in. I believe the fact that I am a skater and now a judge, combined with my years of performance training and experience, I believe I can bring many things to the table.”
Coaching skaters on theatrical understanding and impact has already given him some wonderful opportunities. “This summer will be my third year working in Toronto at Ice Dance Elite with Carol Lane. During the summer skaters come to Carol from all over the world so I’ve had the pleasure to work with teams from Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Czech Republic as well as amazing junior and senior Canadian teams.”
Working off ice with competitors, teaching performance classes and helping to develop new appreciation for character and storylines convey Jeffrey’s admiration of a sport he calls a combination of athletics and artistry. He also feels in many ways the sport is a mirror of life.
“There is so much cross over here. Whether it’s time management, healthy living or obtaining a new skill, you really do use skills that you bring from the ice to your daily life.”
Jeffrey also emphasizes you don’t have to be young to skate.
“As you get older, it’s a great non-impact sport, develops greater balance and core strength, coordination, muscle toning, cardio… and that’s just from basic stroking. Add musicality by using your whole body to create shapes and suddenly you’re at a whole new level of activity.”
His attitude is infectious. “At the end of 12 or 13 hours of judging everyone is always saying ‘I need a drink’ and I’m always saying, ‘I just watched people skate all day, I want to go skate!’
“The problem though is that I sit there and watch and think, I’m only 52, I can still learn that.”
Calgary … Adult Nationals …get ready!